ZZ Top at Mystic Lake Casino, 8/11/11
ZZ Top August 11, 2011 Mystic Lake Casino
"Can we play some bluuuues for you tonight?" growls Billy Gibbons, his lanky body adorned in a sparkly black Nudie suit, Dusty Hill to his right, similarly adorned, and Frank Beard behind them both on a skull-decorated, double-kick drumset, wearing a simple t-shirt and taking drags off a cigarette and pulls off a can of Tab between songs.
Far as the sellout crowd gathered at Mystic Lake Casino to see ZZ Top Thursday night was concerned, Billy Gibbons and crew could do whatever the hell they wanted. They're bad. Nationwide. And all that.
After a quick opening set by Nashville hard Southern rockers Cadillac Black, a three-piece joining ZZ Top for this leg of their tour, Billy, Dusty and Frank took the stage to the sound of a howling, yipping dog of some sort getting the crowd revved up as strobes and smoke shot out through the darkness. ZZ Top are better performers than the simple caricature of them might make them out to be. Gibbons and Hill are right up front, smiles on their bearded faces, performing with their signature strut and sway; it's an amazing thing to see ZZ Top in the flesh, to see they're real, honest-to-god men underneath the beards and sunglasses, behind the coolly indifferent choreography and the gruff, gruff voices.
My mom tells me I saw ZZ Top at my first ever concert, when I probably wasn't even old enough to tie my shoes. I can remember seeing Alabama that day, performing at the same festival, but I don't remember seeing ZZ Top. Alabama were so much friendlier on a toddler's ears back in the early 80s, I suppose. ZZ Top, on the other hand, were about as outlaw as my child-like brain figured music got. That is 'til my cousin's friend went totally nuts in my aunt's camper cranking "Love in an Elevator"... and I thought she was possessed by the devil.
I know better now. Aerosmith ain't bad, they ain't nationwide. In fact, few musicians have got anything on ZZ Top when it comes to badness. Ask any country dude, any blues dude, any rock dude, or any metal dude. This downright "badness" was evident at Mystic Lake Thursday night - Hill's quiet, mysterious presence, stroking his beard and slinking into the background. Gibbons right up front, telling of locating some Mexican food after finding they were "a quart low on hot sauce," and wondering where he could find something happenin' happening outside the bingo parlor. For all that talk of hot sauce, there ain't no one cooler.
It's apparent the band has been at this for four decades. They've got their stage show down. It's polished, but relatable; flashy, but down-to-earth. And above all, it's fun. Whatever their vintage, ZZ Top's got it all figured out. How old are they anyway? If ever there was a band that seemed perpetually, perplexingly ageless it's these guys, from their first album in 1971 'til today, they've always seemed simultaneously youthful rockers, and old, old blues men.
As for the music, well, Jesus. They can play the hell out of their instruments. Billy Gibbons can sing like a mo'fucker. There's really not much more to say than that. They got blues, they got soul, they can rock, and they do it with a smile. Effortless.
Critic's bias: Up close at a ZZ Top show: I can't imagine anyplace on earth I'd be happier. The crowd: ZZ Top is like Mt. Rushmore to these people. In fact, folks were scrambling up under the stage to have their family members snap their photos in front of Billy Gibbons and Dusty Hill. Overheard in the crowd: Not knowing anything about cars, something about how something on stage resembled some car part. In an excited voice. Random notebook dump: Their lead singer, if his stage banter provides any indication, has a penchant for busting his ex-girlfriends' windshields. - re: opening act.
Setlist: Got Me Under Pressure/Waitin' for the Bus/Jesus Just Left Chicago/Pincushion/I'm Bad, I'm Nationwide/Future Blues/Cheap Sunglasses/My Head's in Mississippi/Hey Joe/Brown Sugar/Party on the Patio/Just Got Paid/Gimme All Your Lovin'/Sharp Dressed Man/Legs Encore: LaGrange/Sloppy Drunk/Tush
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